Bairbre Power: How to be a good guest this Christmas
When someone is kind enough to invite you to dinner or a party, some basic rules apply.
1 Tell them if you are available to come with plenty of notice so they can factor you into their catering plans and don't leave them guessing. Trying to do the miracle of the loaves and fishes is stressful at any time of the year but especially during the festive season when people seem to eat more, and graze more. I put it down to the drink.
2 So, having established that you are indeed taking up the kind invitation, it's incumbent on you to share with your host if you have issues with food, and I'm not just talking about 'I'm not mad about anchovies' or 'I don't much like cucumber in my Hendricks.' I'm talking about food intolerances, not eating meat or being a die-hard pescetarian or vegan. I don't know how guests expect their hosts to be mind readers but it's not kosher to just turn up on the night and announce you have food issues.
I still vividly remember an early dinner party fiasco where I spent hours stuffing pork steak with fancy spinach, served with an array of exotic vegetables and it all ended up a damp squib when four of the six dinner guests arrived and announced they didn't eat vegetables! If my memory serves me right, I think someone did a mercy dash to Caffola's on Mespil Road for fish and chips.
3 Don't suddenly decide that you are empowered to bring a plus one. They may not have enough food, or chairs, and they could have been married once to one of the other guests. Eeeek!
4 Never arrive with your hands hanging and always bring a gift to the house. It may not be a bottle of wine any more because odd bottles of vino drunk back to back are a recipe for hangovers. The days of the bottle of Piat d'Or and a Viennetta ice-cream cake are certainly gone. I always think a nice candle is the perfect choice for a host/hostess who has put in a lot of effort.
I was rather intrigued to hear from a London society hostess during an interview that her choice of party gift was a large box of long matches. Unusual, yes, but definitely handy, especially if you love lighting lots of candles. Personally, I love tall white lilies but many people have issues with their fragrance and their orange stamens that stain like hell. A statuesque white potted orchid is always classy, just don't knock off the best part as you get out of the car.
If you are being hosted by a serious foodie, they might appreciate some unusual goodies like seriously good olive oil (you know, the ones in silver foil) or a vintage balsamic vinegar or handmade chocolates - even some smelly cheese. If you are in a rush and running late on the night and the prospect of garage forecourt flowers and a box of After Eight doesn't work for you, simply send lovely flowers the next day.
5 If you are a smoker who cannot go through a dinner without resorting to cigarettes, I think you should just quietly slip out and not look for a smoking buddy because that often just triggers an exodus which is awkward for those non-smokers left at the table on their own. And it goes without saying that vaping at the table is not allowed under any circumstances.
6 In relation to wine, don't drink too much on the night even if you are bored out of your head. It's the party season and if you are on a calorie control kick and like the idea of zero calorie vodka with water, then bring some of your own. Never presume the hostess will have supplies of your poison. If your preferred water is of the non-sparkling variety, never turn up your nose when you are offered tap water. You were probably brought up on it. And if they only have slimline tonic, don't complain that it ruins the taste of your gin.
7 Don't decide to play God with the place settings by arriving early and re-arranging them while the hostess is steaming the asparagus. Just because you don't fancy sitting beside your partner's boring boss does not give you an excuse to upset the hostess's grand plan. And for God's sake, don't pipe up and suggest everyone changes seats between courses - that's just Celtic Tiger networking malarkey.
8 Bring your A-Game with you even if you would rather be at home watching Strictly Come Dancing or cutting your toe nails. Be charming and not challenging. Don't play with the affections of the hostess and under the guise of a faux compliment, ask them for the recipe for the gratin dauphinois when you know full well that it came from Marks & Spencer. Why? Because you rely on them too, just like you add a drop of booze and a few garlicky fried chanterelles to bought Cully & Sully mushroom soup and try and make out that it's your own.
9 Arriving with a 'Do you have a phone charger?' is never a good sign as to your intentions to engage and be sociable. OK, so you might want to check if there are calls from the babysitter, but watch your manners. Put your phone away and don't just rest it on the table alongside your side plate because no one wants to listen to a phone vibrating on the table. On no grounds should you text across to other guests under the table. It's a digital version of raised eyebrows. Likewise, catty comments about other guests is shocking behaviour. And it happens!
10 Do not get bitchy and take revenge if you are bored by turning the conversation onto tricky subjects like Brexit or the price of property. 'What, you bought at the height of the boom and you paid how much for this?' is not cool behaviour. Likewise, you should never comment on the background music and take it upon yourself to play your Spotify list, or worse again, suggest foregoing dessert in order to watch the match. And it goes without saying, if you're not going to attend, tell the host. Don't just text or Facebook them.